LGBTQ+ Voices and the Autistic Community: An Interview with Isabel Martin
By Becca Binnie, Alyssa Miles, Emma Holbrook and Lauren Dooley
We were lucky enough to interview Isabel Martin, who is currently the Editorial Assistant at Jessica Kingsley Publishing. She kindly answered some questions on her role at the company and shared her interests in empowering LGBTQ+ voices and the autistic community within literature.
What does a typical day look like for an Editorial Assistant in Jessica Kingsley?
My role is pretty evenly split between administrative and editorial work. Regular admin tasks include running costings or edition reports on Biblio, keeping metadata up to date, writing the minutes in meetings and more. I also get to do more editorial work, like writing AIs and cover copy, giving feedback on submissions and researching new leads for commissioning. I work on the Autism, Neurodiversity and Gender lists at JKP.
In your professional opinion, what are the most common errors that can be made when editing a book representing the LGBTQ+ community, and, if these errors are frequently being made, what initiative or plan would you implement to correct it?
I’m not an editor, so I don’t feel like I’m in the best position to answer this, but for what it’s worth I would love to see more own voices queer narratives, both in fiction and non-fiction. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with non-LGBTQ+ writers including LGBTQ+ characters in their stories (quite the opposite!) but it is incredibly important for those with lived experience to be consulted while the book is being edited, to avoid veering into stereotypes.
Have there been any particular inspirations that have encouraged you to work so heavily on LGBTQ+ content?
I was drawn to JKP for their social justice outlook, and their focus on the dignity and empowerment of the communities they publish. I applied for my role not knowing which lists I would be working on, and ended up assisting on lots of Gender and Sexuality titles. I feel very lucky because I was drawn to this list in particular from the beginning, not only because these titles represent topics and issues which have impacted myself and lots of my close friends, but because it is such a dynamic and diverse list.
The other list I work on heavily is JKP’s autism list, which the company is very well known for. I’m autistic myself and was really encouraged by the fact that JKP takes a strengths-based approach towards neurodiversity. Autistic people are often told that we are a burden, that we need to change or that our voices don’t matter, and it’s good to get to work against this narrative.
During your time in this role, can you think of a book that you feel was significant in terms of representing the LGBTQ+ community and how much it meant for you to be able to collaborate on this book?
There are lots of titles I’ve been really excited to get to work on. Emma Goswell and Sam Walker’s Coming Out Stories was an amazing project to get to work on. It’s a collection of stories of coming out from people across the LGBTQ+ spectrum, from all walks of life. Another title I’ve felt was particularly significant was The Beginner’s Guide to Being a Trans Ally by Christina Whittlesey – it’s very accessible and approachable in style, and of course very timely. It does a great job of demystifying a topic that people who are less informed might initially feel a bit daunted by.
Jessica Kingsley’s Gender Diversity section of published work is incredibly diverse and books such as Supporting Transgender Autistic Youth and Adults focus specifically on educating the reader about the LGBTQ+ autistic community. In your opinion, why is representing this community within contemporary literature vital to widening understanding?
All of JKP’s books are written from a perspective of empowerment and acceptance and I think this is particularly important when it comes to intersecting identities. A large proportion of the autistic community are known to be LGBTQ+ (particularly in comparison to the neurotypical population), and it’s crucial that they’re not excluded from the discussion. Being autistic impacts every area of your life (speaking from experience here), and as such there will be aspects of gender, sexuality and related issues that impact autistic people in a different way than the majority.
Autistic voices are often, unfortunately, excluded from the conversation around autism and related issues. A narrative that I’ve seen thrown around is that a large proportion of autistic people identify as gender divergent because we (autistic people) are somehow more gullible or easily misled, and as such are 'tricked' into identifying as something other than cisgender. This obviously isn’t the case, but it’s very easy for the community to be shouted over and/or told that our experiences don’t matter – this is why I feel that it’s particularly important that we publish books for this community, by those with lived experience, to ensure that they are given a platform.